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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2012

Our Events. Our Community. Our Lives.

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Acknowledging Douglass’s impact BY

J OHN M ULLER

On the morning of March 20, 1877, a day after Frederick Douglass was sworn in and bonded as U.S. marshal of the District, two black Washingtonians stood at the corner of 7th and D streets NW “discussing the Frederick political situation in generDouglass in al,” according to a daily paWashington, per. D.C.: The One was a “strong DougLion of lass man” and the other Anacostia. “believed that the present marshal has no right to hold his position.” The discussion intensified; they fought it out hand-to-hand and were arrested. At the police court, a $5 fine was assessed and they were let go. Had they gone to the city jail at 19th and B streets in Northeast

Washington, marshal Douglass’s signature would have been on the jail transfer for the warden’s review. The former fugitive slave was now accepted as part of the established order, and in a twist of history, was now entrusted with enforcing the law on the streets of the country’s capital city. While biographers and scholars have produced thousands of pages on Frederick Douglass the abolitionist, social reformer, statesman and public intellectual, much has gone unexplored about his daily life in Washington. He was a local political figure, newspaper editor, U.S. marshal, trustee of Howard University, amateur thespian of the Uniontown Shakespeare Club, real estate investor and philanthropist. He was a man of the city, closely linked to the daily rhythms of the evolving nation’s capital. Over the past year, I have dug to find out D.C. PUBLIC LIBRARY/LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Above: An illustration of Frederick Douglass greeting visitors in his office in City Hall. Left: Cedar Hill, Douglass’s former residence. Bottom left: Douglass displayed this 1887 map of Uniontown, which is now known as Anacostia, in his home.

who Frederick Douglass of Anacostia truly was. In recent years Douglass has reemerged in the country’s consciousness as a valued adviser to President Abraham Lincoln; new scholarship is expected to emerge as the bicentennial of Douglass’s birth approaches. Part of what I hope to explain in my book, “Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.” (The History Press), is that Douglass’s 25 years in Washington have been largely overlooked. There was no larger presence in Washington’s postwar black community than Frederick Douglass. His involvement in all matters of city politics, lecturing at churches throughout the city with proceeds often going to relief efforts for the poor, illustrate how the Lion of Anacostia had become a true Washingtonian by the time he died of a heart attack the evening of Feb. 20, 1895. At every turn Douglass, during the latter years of his life, was as much a man of his local community as he was a man of international fame. While Douglass is known famously as the editor of the North Star, the abolitionist newspaper, he was also the financier — and later editor — of the New National Era, a weekly covering local Washington events and Reconstruction throughout the former Confederate States in the 1870s. With offices on the 400 block of 11th Street NW, just off Pennsylvania Avenue and in the heart of “Newspaper Row,” the paper has nearly been forgotten.

But records confirm the Washington paper was read aloud as a leading authority of the day on the floor of Congress. Douglass was tapped to be on the board of a new university founded in 1867 and named after Gen. Oliver Otis Howard of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Howard University was in its infancy when Douglass joined the board in the early 1870s. As the most prominent self-taught black Victorian gentleman of letters, Douglass was conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws by the university in June 1872. So impressed were the founders that Douglass lent his name and prestige to the board and his critical support in helping freedmen and their sons and daughters access higher education. And he was a thespian. Just months after paying $6,700 for the former estate of Uniontown developer John Van Hook, Frederick Douglass accompanied the Uniontown Shakespeare Club for a reading of “The Merchant of Venice.” He read the part of Shylock and wrote in a letter, “This is my second meeting with the club. I find it very pleasant and entertaining.” With the pending placement of Douglass’s statue, currently in the lobby of One Judiciary Square, in the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall there seems to be a “New Washington” ready to finally recognize all that Douglass meant to the nation’s capital. John Muller is a local journalist and historian. A former reporter for the Washington Times, he is a current contributor to Capital Community News and Greater Greater Washington.

Q&A

NASCAR’s first black female driver is on the right track BY

E RIN W ILLIAMS

Tia Norfleet is on a race to the top. Daughter of racecar legend Bobby Norfleet, the 25-year-old has been racing since she was a child, and she is the only black woman to be licensed by NASCAR. Norfleet’s career began with gokart racing and has included numerous top finishes in the Bandolero series, late-model car series and drag racing, where she had 37 wins in 52 starts. She competes under her dad’s old number, 34, and finished her first NASCAR race in August. Norfleet spends her time outside work talking to students about overcoming adversity in sports and working with her child-literacy program, “Driven 2 Read.” As an African American, Norfleet is helping to usher in a wave of diversity in the racing industry. We recently spoke with the Suffolk, Va., native about breaking barriers in racecar driving, her

passion for music and keeping her dad hip. Your presence in racecar driving has helped to usher in a new generation of diversity for the industry. What do you think it will take to bring more black females into the sport? Why has it not been touched until now? I think because a lot of people are really unaware of it. A lot of people don’t know anything about it, especially minorities, especially people of color. Because it is a predominately white sport — a predominately white male sport, at that — a lot of people just don’t know know about it. Hopefully with seeing an example, that “Hey, if she can do it, I can do it,” hopefully that’s the kind of effect that will happen. Since your father was a racecar driver, the idea of racing was something that was in your daily life. For someone who hasn’t considered racing, what can be done to increase awareness of the sport? I think actually seeing someone

}You gotta see this! tHe daiLY QUiZ In today’s Weekend section movie critic Anne Hornaday wrote that one film was “serious and substantive, an ingeniously written and executed drama fashioned from a fascinating, little-known chapter of recent history. It also happens to be extremely funny, crafty and enormously entertaining.” Which movie was she reviewing?

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Tia Norfleet talks about breaking into the racing industry

MARK GAIL FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

Tia Norfleet signs autographs after speaking at Howard Community College in Columbia.

that they can identify with would be a steppingstone toward that goal. A lot of people don’t pay attention to things they don’t identify with. You completed your first race in August without sponsorship. Have things picked up since then? What are you doing to increase your following? Things have definitely picked up. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. I go to schools all around the country . . . and I speak to kids. I go on what you would call a mini-tour, and I use social networks as much as possible. I have a team of people that also helps [bring] awareness to people that don’t know about me. It’s working for me. It’s encouraging and it’s motivating to get the positive feedback from people. It makes me feel like, “Okay, this is what I’m doing this for.” You and your father co-own Bobby Norfleet Racing. How do you balance a business and a personal relationship?

He’s more of a mentor. The relationship — we balance it by just being ourselves. Everybody has those days when they don’t want to be bothered, or when you may have a small disagreement, but that’s just life. We just take it as it is. He’s older, so a lot of things that I know [are] hip, and I try to tell him, “Hey, Dad, that’s not cool anymore, you have to do it this way,” and he’s like, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” We always have disagreements, but . . . we agree to disagree, and we’re okay with it. When you told your mother you wanted to be a racecar driver, was she opposed to the idea, or was she supportive? She supported me 100 percent. Of course, her maternal instinct is to be very protective over me because I am her child, but she encourages me to do whatever it is that my heart desires. She would support me even if I wanted to make stop signs — as long as I was the best at making stop signs! williamse@washpost.com,

Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello performs “A Dedication to Nina Simone” at the Howard Theatre at 8 p.m. on Oct. 14. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 the day of the show.

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"Acknowledging Douglass's Impact" by John Muller, courtesy of the Washington Post